When all of your friends are liars, it's hard to know who to trust - especially when there's $200,000 up for grabs. "The Troublemakers," Gilbert Hernandez' second original graphic novel for Fantagraphics, examines the sordid world of petty and seasoned criminals in a heist story tinged with the charm and magical realism of "Love and Rockets." That series, created with brothers Jaime and Mario, features several recurring stories, notably Gilbert's "Palomar" thread and Jaime's "Locas." The first issue was published in 1981, and the series quickly grew into a landmark of '80s alternative comics. Now in its third iteration, "L&R" is published annually by Fantagraphics, the most recent issue having been released in August of 2009. CBR News spoke with Hernandez about "The Troublemakers," which debuts in December, as well as what's coming up in next year's edition of "Love and Rockets."
Navigating through several layers of fiction, "The Troublemakers" is billed as the second comic adaptation of a film starring "Love and Rockets'" Luba's half-sister, Rosalba "Fritz" Martinez, and the Dark Horse miniseries "Speak of the Devil" was an account of "actual events" that inspired a movie--although these events and all of Fritz's films, of course, only exist within the "Love and Rockets" universe. CBR asked the artist how he decides which level-the movie, the "actual events," or the straightforward story of Fritz's career--is most interesting and thus merits its own graphic novel. "Sometimes a simple title will inspire a story, like 'The Troublemakers.' Or a setting, like a vast desert or simply a hotel," Hernandez said. "Then there's the real indulgent part of what I want Fritz to look like in the story, whether she's a sexy grifter or, coming up soon, a half human, half cat creature ('Scarlet by Starlight,' 'L&R' 3) living in a dense forest."
The book centers on con man and would-be musician Wes, who is trying desperately to grab his friend Dewey Booth's $200,000 cache to start his own club. To this end, he's enlisted buxom stage magician (and his former babysitter) Nala, as his willing accomplice. But things become complicated when Vincene, a woman from Wes's past and an able criminal in her own right, arrives on the scene. But having surrounded himself with such unsavory characters, Wes begins to wonder if there aren't hidden schemes and ulterior allegiances within his little circle.
"We're all acting in our day to day lives, just to get through, and these grifters do it so often they don't even know what is the truth or not any more," Hernandez said of the story. And though Wes sees himself as a master manipulator, it is clear fairly early on in "The Troublemakers" that he is out of his league. For example, there is some business throughout the book about Wes's Iroquois charm, which Vincene has obtained and which turns up at key moments in the book. "Wes is clearly a weak, passive criminal, and the charm is simply a placebo in place of intestinal fortitude," the artist said of the trinket.
All of Hernandez' characters, though, share the thrillseeker mentality. "Each person in the story only knows that getting away with something works better than earning it honestly," the artist said. "The 4 main characters are attractive people, for the most part, but they are drawn to shady doings because it turns them on. This type of immaturity is glorified everywhere you look, so why work a 9 to 5 job? Fritz's character brings up the obvious question of 'Why doesn't she just marry a rich guy?' Because she would get bored right away. She's the type of person I like to compare to 'monkeys with dynamite.'"
Hernandez' influences in "The Troublemakers" include pulp novels, to which he pays homage with the cover, and heist movies such as "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" and "A Simple Plan." "Nothing sadder/funnier than people chasing after dough they'll never get to spend," Hernandez said. On the subject of pulps, he added, "I've always liked the look of old pulp novels, especially the promise of a forbidden world within the pages. I've never read any of them, so I'm left with imagining what they might be about.
"My job is always to make any story something worthy of reading, which I imagine most of those pulp novels are not," he continued. "Last, but not least, I want to explore the freedoms of exploitation entertainment, because I've always felt such material can go further into madness than so called do-gooder art."
That madness includes an improbable scene involving seven stray bullets, and more than mystery remaining ambiguous at story's end. "I'm not always working in the real world, and I'm also not saying [they have] any metaphoric meaning," Hernandez said of his more over-the-top scenes. "I like working in a strange world, is all." Nala's mastery of stage magic creates several memorable scenes, for example, and Hernandez described her abilities as "simply a mystery to keep things askew."
"I never like when those sorts of things are explained at the end of a story. It's like when a child doesn't understand what just happened in real life, but he accepts it as 'just one of those things,'" he said.
Though "The Troublemakers" is a "Love and Rockets" story by way Fritz's "acting," Hernandez said that the current Dark Horse miniseries, "Citizen Rex," which he created with his brother Mario, is unrelated to the extended L&R universe. The third issue of "Love and Rockets: New Stories," on the other hand, will feature two Fritz stories, "Scarlet by Starlight" in which she stars as a cat creature and "another with a human Fritz and a fellow simply talking to one another for the entire story," Hernandez said. "I want to give the latter one the most dialogue I've ever written. The cat story and 'Hypnotwist' from 'L&R' 2 will be later collected together as a 'double feature' with added pages of pretty strong sex. I'm leaving out lot of the sex in 'L&R' as not to scare away potential readers, and putting it back in the reprint versions."
On the significance of the cat creature story, Hernandez said, "early in the 'history' of Fritz's 10 year film career, she travelled to Japan to make a few films there and 'Scarlet by Starlight' was her first science fiction movie. She didn't do many sci fi films, even though that's her personal favorite genre."
He added that, "'Scarlet by Starlight' concerns a research team conducting experiments in a forest where a family of half human/half feline creatures live. The humans and the felines get along fine until the female cat girl (Fritz) falls for one of the human researchers. Messy stuff ensues.
"I chose the story for 'L&R' 3 because I want my work in there to be as different as I can make it issue after issue. I don't want the readers to see the same thing issue after issue as in the old days. Especially now that the book is an annual."